Rural school closure confirmed

IT was confirmed this week that Cookley and Walpole Primary School will close in the summer due to plummeting pupil numbers.The school currently has just nine pupils, compared with the sixteen children expected at the start of term, and of the 29 children living in the catchment only five attend the village school.

A TINY school near Halesworth is to close this summer as its pupil numbers continue to plummet, it was confirmed this week.

Cookley and Walpole Primary School has just nine pupils, compared with the 16 children expected at the start of term. Of the 29 children living in the catchment area only five attend the school.

The expected decision came at a meeting on Wednesday when Suffolk County Council's cabinet decided to end the spiralling cost of teaching such a small number of children.

Patricia O'Brien, portfolio holder for schools, said closing a village school was a difficult decision to take, but she added: "The viability of continuing to provide a full curriculum at the school is in serious doubt.

"The school's budget is not sustainable. It currently costs £5,300 per pupil per year, which is double the council's average. By 2009 that will have risen to more than £17,000."

Head Annie Corrie said: "Closing the school is disappointing but under-standable given the circumstances.

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"What we need to focus on now is making sure that the children who will move to Bramfield find that move as easy as possible, so I will be talking with the head teacher at Bramfield to look at ways of giving Cookley and Walpole pupils time to get to know their new surroundings. I know the ethos of Bramfield is similar to this school as we often join together for a range of activities, and I am sure this will help our pupils to make a smooth transition."

It is estimated the transport costs of sending the children to Bramfield Primary will total about £24,000. These will be met by the county council.

Parents of the remaining pupils have expressed their sadness at the closure decision. Mandie Steel, whose seven-year-old daughter Erin will be among those going to Bramfield, said: "It's a shame. It's a good school, and I think Miss Corrie is lovely.

"My girl's got a few learning problems and they've got her back on track again.

"My nanny used to go to school here, and Erin's dad used to go here. It's sad, but I think everyone knew it would happen."

Katrina King, whose son Brandon, also seven, goes to the school, said he had received a top-class education.

She added: "I'm happy with the progress Brandon's made here, even now that the school's down to nine pupils. At the end of the day he's not going to get the same attention as he's got here. But the children should have more pupils to interact with for other reasons: for sports, for example."

Despite the school's closure it has been confirmed that the Stepping Stones pre-school which meets there on Wednesday mornings will survive, but in a new home.

Its supervisor, Anna Frost, said the pre-school was one of only a few in the county that received an outstanding rating in its recent Ofsted inspection. She added: "We do intend to keep going and will need to start searching for other premises."

A six-week consultation exercise among parents, governors and the local community backed the school closure plan, although there was also some support for the school to be run as a federation with another local school and share a head.

The building belongs to the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, although the Ven John Cox, diocesan director of education, said it could be handed back to whoever had given the land in Victorian times.